Talking With Tomie De Paola

    Stega nona comprehension. Of me, even helga and strega nona. it can be one of those 'light bulb' situations like in the comic strips, or sometimes just plain tedious coaxing. a piece of. www.uno.edu.

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Teaching
and
Learning Literature
MAy/JUNE
1998
Talking with Tomie
PATRICIA AUSTIN
icture this:
It's a
Friday
afternoon
after
a solid week
of
sessions
at
the
International
Reading Association. You've
arranged
an
interview with Tomie dePaola, virtually a household
name
in
the children's
book
world.
With
tape
recorder
in
hand,
you meet
and
look for a
spot
in the Meridien Hotel
ending
up
on
some
easy
chairs
near
a deserted
piano
bar. You have a
chance
to
chat
with a writer
and
artist
whose
work
encompasses
picture
books, easy nonfiction, wordless books,
concept
books, poetry,
and
folktales.
Where
do
you begin? Not to worry, he's easygoing, forthcoming
with
stories (if
rambling
a bit),
but
hey, it's
been
a week
of
conventioneering. And he's absolutely
charming,
just
like his books.
SUKI GOUGHLIN
47
-<=jO-
Talking
with
Tomie PATRlCIA
AUSTIN
We talked
about
a lot of
things-about
ideas,
the
process
of writing,
and
the role of the
editor
in his work. We talked
about
his art, the people
who have influenced his artistic vision,
and
fel-
low illustrators he admires. And we talked
about
how
books
once published take on a life of
their
own,
how
teachers
share
his
books
with
kids,
and
the children's responses.
It
was a wonderful
afternoon, looking back
and
looking ahead.
The where-do-you-get-your-
ideas question, revisited
I
never
intended to ask
Tomie
where he gets
his
ideas,
knowing
that
most
authors
despise
that
question. Indeed he's already ably answered
it in
an
author
profile printed by
one
of his pub-
lishers. "I guess [ideas]
ultimately
come
from
inside myself.
All
my
characters
seem to be
parts
of
me,
even
Helga
and
Strega
Nona. It
can
be
one
of
those
'light
bulb'
situations
like in
the
comic
strips,
or
sometimes
just
plain
tedious
coaxing. A piece
of
music-a
painting-a
cup
of
coffee-whenever
the idea
or
character
is ready
to
pop
out, I'd
better
be
ready to
grab
it."
Yet
despite
my
not
asking
this
most-asked
question-where
do
you get
your
ideas?-much
of
our
discussion that
afternoon
focused
on
just
that.
In
his
autobiographical
sketch
in
Something About the Author, (the bulk of which
he wrote for a souvenir
book
for a celebration
in
his
hometown,
Meredin) dePaola recounts events
of
his life
many
of which
are
immortalized in his
picture books.
He
enjoyed writing the sketch, he
said
"because
it was like
stream
of
consciousness
writing,
remembering
everything
I
could."
Interestingly
enough, I noted
that
although
the
autobiographical
sketch was written
prior
to the
publication
of The Art Lesson,
one
of
his
mem-
oirs,
the
words
were
almost
exactly
the
same.
"What happened," Tomie said, "was that The Art
Lesson
came
out of writing
and
talking
about
the
whole experience. I
thought
I
ought
to write this
as
a
book.
It'd
be
cute
with
pictures."
Other
books
that
fall into
that
memoir
category include
The Baby Sister,
which
was
published
in 1996,
Oliver
Button
is a Sissy (1979),
Now
One Foot,
Now the Other
(1981),
and
Nana Upstairs, Nana
Downstairs
(1973). ''I've found quite by accident,
from talking at places like IRA, that people love
to
hear
stories
about
my childhood,"
Tomie
said.
Figuring
that
writers live in a way
that
makes
them
recognize ideas
and
pretty
much
assuming
that
getting
ideas
is
never
really a
problem,
I
asked
dePaola
how
he
decides
which
idea
to
work on next. "I
used
to sit
down
and
write
the
idea because I was
so
afraid I'd lose it.
Now
I
work a little bit differently. I get the idea
and
I
let it
simmer.
I
think
about
it
and
invariably
what
will
happen
is
another
idea will
come
pop-
ping into
my
head almost full-blown. I
can
give
you a very good example. It isn't a
book
yet; it's
not even a word on a piece
of
paper. I was hav-
ing a friend of
mine
in for
dinner
and
I went to
the
one
supermarket
in
my
town.
There's
also a
very good bakery nearby. Anyway, I
came
out
of
the
supermarket
with a
bag
and
a loaf of
bread
under
my
arm
and
it was
like-wait
a
minute
I
remember
doing this as a kid. My
Italian
grand-
mother
would
give
me
twenty
cents
when
the
church
bells rang.
She
turned
the
fire
on
under
the
pasta, she would give
me
twenty cents,
and
I
would
go
across
the
baseball
field to
the
little
bakery
and
get
two
loaves
of
really
hot
fresh
bread. And
on
the
bread
bag
was a little street
urchin
running,
his
socks
down
around
his
ankle,
loaves
of
bread
under
his
arm.
So
I
thought I'm going to
do
a story
about
this little
boy, this little
urchin
that
delivers the
bread.
As
the
kid gets
more
business,
he
eventually
gets
roller skates
and
then
he gets a bicycle.
But
then
the
baker
gets a
bread
truck,
and
the kid's
out
of
a
job.
I
can
see
this
drawing-a
double-page
spread
of
all
these
old
Italian
ladies,
[since
named
in
his
book-Signora
Meoni,
Signora
Melazzi,
Signora
Moleti,
Signora
Bosi,
Signora
Amoroso
and
Signorina Philomena] all
standing
around.
Then
at the
end
the
baker
puts
the little
kid's
picture
on the
bread
bag.
Now
I
haven't
written it yet,
but
that's
where
these
ideas
come
from. And in a very funny way, they
do
all fun-
Teaching
and
Learning Literature
MAy/JUNE
1998
nel
through
childhood."
When
I asked
Tomie
when
he
might
get
to
the
point
of
writing
this
particular
story,
wondering
whether
it
would
be
months
or
even
years
from
now,
he
said
he
suggested
the
idea to his
editor
at
Putnam,
Margaret
Frith,
and
she
liked the idea.
"What
we
do
now
is discuss [ideas]," he said.
"I
real-
ly try to
take
advantage
of
time
to
make
things
efficient
and
I
don't
write
anything
down
until
we've
talked
about
it.
More
or
less, it's
like telling a
story
to
an
audience
in a way. Does this
story
work
or
doesn't
it
work?
Once
we
get
a
manuscript
in
shape,
then
I
get
past
Margaret
[Frith]
to
Cecilia
Young,
who
is
the
art
director
at
Putnam.
Cecilia
and
Margaret
come
up
to
the
house
and
we
start
talking
out
the
book-the
basic
design.
While
we
are
working
on
the
fonnat,
we
do
some
more
edit-
ing
of
the
text. And I find I
make
a few
edi
torial
changes
as
I'm
working
on
the art."
Pursuing
his lead, I pressed
to
find
out
even
more
of
how
dePaola
perceives
the
role
of
the
editor.
He
has
worked
with
Margaret
Frith
for
thirty-two
years. "I kind
of
force feedback
and
input,"
Tomie
said.
"I
don't
mind
criticism
at
all.
I'm
not
like
some
of
my
colleagues
who
don't
want
editors
to
touch
a
word.
I
don't
feel
that
arrogant
about
my
writing; I
don't
feel
that
good
about
it.
Paula
Danziger
and
I
were
commiserat-
ing
about
Margaret
[Frith]
and
how
she's really
tough
as
an
editor.
Margaret
has
this
wonderful
line,
and
you
know
when
it's coming. His voice
became
slow
and
deliberate. 'Tomie, it's a very
good
book,
but
I
think
if
you
make
these
changes,
it
will
be
even
better.'
As
Paula
says,
how
can
you
resist
that?
We all
want
to
do
the
perfect
book."
Tomie
laughed.
"Margaret
isn't
worried
that
I
won't
be
able to
write
a
story.
She
can
often
help
me
to
pare
it
down
and
make
it
more
direct.
For
her, less is
certainly
more.
And
I
think
she's right."
As
dePaola
himself
noted,
he
likes
to
offer
a
"full service
menu."
He
said
that
one
of
the
deci-
sions
he
made
career-wise
and
business-wise
is
to
insist
on
doing
projects
with
Grosset,
the
more
mass
market
part
of
Putnam.
"I
like
doing
those
books
because
it
gets
my
work
to
a
younger
audience.
I
don't
want
my
books
just
to
be available
to
the high
tone
literati."
Ah
good,
an
opening
to a
question
I
really
wanted
to
ask-what
about
creating
board
49
-----ejO-
Talking
with
Tomie PATR1CIA
AUSTIN
books?
On
the surface, they look so simple, the
kind
of
books
that
many
of
my
students
look
at
and
think-'People
get
paid
to
do
this?' They
look like they could be
done
in a day.
"Well,
actually,"
Tomie
admitted,
" Maybe
three days.
Now
when
I say they're easy to do,
instead
of
32
pictures, I only have to do 6
and
of
course I
use
a very simple direct interface style.
There is a thinking process
that
goes into these
books
though.
What's difficult
about
writing a
board
book
is getting the concept. I wanted to
do a
book
on
the
Christmas
symbols because I
thought
kids were growing
up
not knowing
the
symbols.
So
out
of
that
came
Baby's
First
Christmas
and
after
that
came
books
on
other
holidays-Thanksgiving,
Hanukkah,
and Easter.
Somewhere
along the line Margaret
and
I decid-
ed it
would
be fun to
put
some
children in these
books.
In
My
First Thanksgiving we had Native
Americans
and
Pilgrims
and
because it's a family
holiday, I had to create a family. Instead
of
one
baby, I
made
two babies,
twins-a
boy
and
a girl.
Another
hard
part
is
coming
up
with
what
are
the six
major
things
about
the holiday?
What
we
do
is
we
make
lists. Then we pick
out
the ones
that
are
the
best.
For
Easter, for example, do we
say we go to
church
on Easter? Well, if you say
you go
to
church,
you're
going to have all
the
people
who
don't go to
church
say, 'I'm not going
to buy this
book
because they go to
church
and
we don't.'
Then
what
about
the
people
who
go
to
church?
We got a few letters on the
Easter
one.
Because
board
books
are
so
simple, you have
to
get to
the
beginning
and
middle and end quickJy,
but
they
have
to
be
rich
because
otherwise
a
child will look
at
it
and
throw it down."
dePaola
had
just
illustrated
a
board
book
and
was
eager
to talk
about
it. "Someone in the
office
at
Putnam
came
up
with the concept
and
it was written in-house. It's called, Get Dressed
Santa.
It's
Christmas
Eve
and
it's
late
and
Santa's
getting
dressed.
Finally he's gotten all
dressed, he's ready to hop into his sleigh, and
he
has
to go.
There
isn't a child
in
the
Northeast
that
hasn't
been
dressed
up
in a
snowsuit
that
hasn't
gone~ops,
gotta go to the
bathroom.
So
50
it's very funny."
In
contrast
to
board
books which
are
the
eas-
iest
kinds
of
books
he
creates,
dePaola
claims
that "the
hardest
kind
of
books to
do
are
word-
less books. The thing
about
a wordless book is
that
I have to write
almost
a whole movie script,
because the
reader
doesn't have
any
words
to go
on.
How
is
my
editor
going to make a
judgment
and
help
me
out
with
it
unless
I tell
the
whole
story? So, I really
work
like a movie
shooting
script, like a silent movie." His wordless books
include
Flicks, Pancakes for Breakfast,
and
Sing,
Pierrot Sing.
AJso,
I
wondered
and
asked
about
his folk-
tales,
among
which
are
Strega Nona, Big
Anthony
and
the
Magic
Ring,
Strega
Nona
Her
Story,
Tony's
Bread,
The
Clown
of
God,
and
Jamie
O'Rourke
and
the Big Potato
just
to
name
a few.
"The folktales
that
I'm
interested in
are
obscure
ones
and
I always change them."
The
amount
of
research
behind
the folktales varies. "It
depends
upon
how
much
I'm going to retell it
in
my
own
voice
because
I don't ever take a folktale
as
is. I
want
to
tell it in
my
own way
or
bring
out
the
humor
of
a
particular
tale to a
present-day
audi-
ence.
That's
what
a
storyteller
is; a
storyteller
always
makes
a tale his own. What's really
ardu-
ous
for
me
though,
is
the
art
research.
I
just
steep
myself
with
pages
and
pages
out
of
art
books."
When
he
chooses
a
folktale
to retell,
dePaola
wants
to be
sure
he
includes a child
or
a
child-like character. "Every child [for instance]
relates to
Jamie
O'Rourke
because
he's lazy."
Yet
again
on
the
ubiquitous
theme
of
how
writers
get ideas, dePaola
shared
how
a folktale
that
he
just
finished, The Days
of
the Blackbird,
had
its beginnings.
The
seed
was
planted
with
the
remark
of
an
Italian
restaurant
owner
in his
home
town.
dePaola
commented
how
cold
it
was
and
the
owner
said,
'''It's
what
we
call
Ie
giornate
de
la
merla.
January
29,30,31.'''
dePaola
wondered
what
it
meant.
It
sounded
interesting. "'Days of the
blackbird:
the
owner
said, 'We say
that
because those are
the
coldest
days
of
the
year. It's
so
cold
that
all
of
the white
~
Teaching
and
Learning Literature
MAy/JUNE
J998
doves
fly
into
the
chimneys
and
when they
come
out
they're all black
with
soot.'
I
started
thinking
that
this idea could go
in
any direction,
hystericaJly funny
or
I could rete]] a
tale
based
on
this little
funny
folk-
lore
of
days
of
the
blackbird
that
might
be
like
an
Italian
Emperor's
nightingale type
of
story. And that's
what
I did."
For
a
while
dePaola
was
Creative
Director
of
Whitebird
Books,
a
division
of
Putnam
that
was
focusing
on
making
folktales
from
around
the world available to
a
new
generation
of
young
readers.
The
plan
was
to
work
with
new,
undiscovered
talent
as
well
as
already
published
authors
and
artists.
"Well,"
Tomie
explained
"Whitebird
books
were
conceptual-
ized
at
absolutely
the
wrong
time.
These beautiful
books
just
sat
there.
Didn't sell. They sold to schools
and
libraries,
not
in
huge
numbers,
but
the big
bookstore
sales
just
weren't
there.
People
weren't
interested
in
stories
by
[writers
and
artists]
that
they
didn't
know.
When
we
started
out,
there
were
no
other
ethnic
books
out
there. Now the
market's
flooded
with
them.
So that's
on
hold."
At
one
point,
dePaola
began
a
novel,
although
it's only half finished
and
he
says he'JI
"probably
never
go
back
to it.
It
was
about
two
young
boys
and
one
of
them
dies
of
AIDS. It's
almost
at
the
point
where
it's
too
late to publish
it now.
It
was triggered by two completely dif-
ferent thjngs.
One
was
that
I have
had
a Jot of
friends die
of
AIDS
and
another
was, I got a let-
ter
from
a
little
boy
that
said
'Dear
Tomie
dePaola,
My
best
friend
died
and
I
was
very
upset.
Can
you write a
book
about
this?' And so,
it was
that
combination
of
AIDS
and
childhood
death. I
was
trying to keep
up
with
my audience.
Reproducedwith permiSSion of Ihe publisher. G.
P.
Putnam's Sons
Kids write
and
say, 'When
are
you
going
to write
chapter
books?"
They
get to
fourth
grade
and
they feel I've
abandoned
them."
"I
probably
shouldn't
have
shown
[the
novel]
to
Margaret
[his editor]
when
I did.
She
didn't
like it.
Margaret
just
thought
I
was
getting
too
complicated, too involved
with
the
writing,
that
I
was
losing
any
kjnd
of
passion. I
didn't
make
the
characters
real
enough.
I knew
she
was
right.
It
was
also a kind
of
blow
to
my
ego in a sense."
"I have a
manuscript
of
another
longer
book
I did
years
ago. I have
four
rewrites
on
it
with
three different
editors
and
who
knows?
It
may
surface
again
one
of
these days.
It
isn't a topical
51
-------s0---
Talking
with
Tomie PATRlCIA AUSTIN
book as
such
like the AIDS book."
When
dePaola
mentioned
that
a
trigger
behind
one
of the novel ideas
had
been
a child's
letter, I asked if any
of
the books he'd published
had
grown
out
of
children's
suggestions. "The
one
that
really
turned
into
something
was
The
Quicksand
Book.
You
know,
when
someone
sends
me
an
idea, I read it
and
I say ok. That's a
good idea;
or
that's not a good idea;
or
that
may
be a good idea
but
I don't
want
to touch it. I try
to keep
an
open mind
about
it because you never
know."
"Recently,"
he
continued,
"I
asked a friend,
'What do kids in third grade love? She said they
love
mysteries.
'What
kind
of
mysteries?'
I
asked.
She
said, 'Any kind of
mysteries-detec-
tive.' And I said, 'Do they have to be complicat-
ed?' And
she
said, 'No, they
can
be pretty sim-
ple.'
So
I
thought
okay, I'll
come
up with some-
thing."
So this
is
literally the way it works? I won-
dered
aloud.
"Yeah,
sometimes.
Sometimes,"
Tomie said. "I've got a little idea.
But
I
want
to
wait
until
I
have
two
or
three
ideas
with
the
same
character.
It's a bunny, a rabbit. He's got a
little
sister
and
he's
got
a
best
friend
who's
a
sheep. I
thought
it would be fun to have
animal
characters
that
might
go
into
more
than
one
book. I
just
have to
come
up
with
some
more
ideas
about
mysteries. One's going to be the case
of
the missing
Easter
drawing. You know
how
kids
do
these
drawings
and
they
put
them
on
the
windows
in school? This is going to be the case
of
the
missing
drawing,
but
the
little
bunny
comes
bobbing
along, a
bunny
detective. His sis-
ter's
drawing
is
stolen
from
a
window
in
the
classroom
and
the
reason
why
it was
stolen
is
that
the principal saw it
and
loved it so
much
she
put
it
in
her
office.
But
she
didn't tell
she
was
taking
it.
How
the
bunny
detective finds it, I
don't
know.
Whether
he
does
something
bad
and
has
to
go to the principal's office and there
it
is on
the
wall, I don't know.
But
that's how
some
things
happen.
You never know."
In
the
autobiographical sketch in Something
About the Author,
dePaola
mentioned
a
plan
for
a sequel to Helga,
and
in fact,
he
never wrote it.
"There are
sometime
projects I
just
don't finish.
I
start
them
and
when
I get into them, for
some
reason, they
just
don't
get resolved."
The who-has-influenced-
your-work as an artist ques-
tion, revisited
Since dePaola
considers
himself
foremost
an
artist, we
spent
time
talking specifically
about
his art as well. In
the
wonderfully
roundabout
way in
which
Tomie
tells a story,
he
talked, in
fact,
about
the
mentoring
relationship
and
about
Ben
Shahn.
"I
was
at
a
summer
art
school
and
I
was
being
kind
of
ignored
by
the
faculty
there
because, first
of
all, I
came
from
Pratt.
And
Pratt
was
known
as a technical art school, a
commer-
cial
art
school, instead" he said with
an
affected
accent, "of
the
Boston
Museum
School
of
Fine
Arts."
"There were visiting artists
who
came
in
and
Ben
Shahn
was
one
of
them. I
was
at
this school
because I was going
to
go into a
monastery
and
I
wanted to learn the
technique
of
true
Frescoes. I
had
some
sort
of
idea
that
maybe
the
Benedictines would
send
me all
over
the
world
and
I'd be doing frescoes,
not
realizing,"
he
said
with
a smile,
"that
this
may
have
been
a
past
life,
that
I
had
indeed
been
a
monk
artist
and
done
frescoes.
It
was
a
wonderful
ten
weeks.
We
lived, ate,
and
slept art.
Someone
had
given
me
a funny little
book
of
psalms
and
they
were
illus-
trated weirdly
with
engravings
that
were
really
abstract. I
wanted
to
make
them
concrete."
"Anyway,
our
paintings
were
lined
up
and
Ben
Shahn
said,
'No
one's
talked
aboiJt
these
three
paintings.
I
want
to
talk
about
these
because
they are
the
only
paintings
up
here
that
don't look like art school paintings.' Well, I
burst
into
tears
and
ran
from
the
room.
My
friends
had
to
drag
me
back
in saying, 'Listen to
what
52
--cjO--
Teaching
and
Learning Literature
MAy/JUNE
1998
he's saying
about
your
work.' It's
not
that
he
thought
my
work
was
so fabulous,
but
it
was
that
I
was
doing
what
artists
really have to
do
and
that's
find
their
own
vision, from in here
and
out,
not
from
ou
t
there
and
through
the
hand.
Shahn
told
the
faculty, 'I
want
to
meet
this
young
man.'''
Although
dePaola
had
been
sharing
a
painting
shed
with
some
Boston
Museum
School
artists,
"10
and
behold
I
had
my
own
studio
the next morning,"
he
recalled. And Ben
Shahn
worked
with
him
every
morning.
"Shahn
didn't say, 'This is
how
you
paint
this; this is
how
you
paint
that.
Rather
he said to
me
once, 'You
know
what
would
be
fun? Let's
find
some
sticks
and
use
them
to
draw
with.' And we found
some
sticks
and
dipped
them
into
India
ink
and
we
drew.
'What
you're
doing
is
you're
being
a
rebel,'
Shahn
told me,
'because
nobody
understands
that
you
want
to
do
these paintings of these psalms. I
think it's a wonderful idea if you
want
to
do
these
paintings
and
I
think
it's a
wonderful
idea
that
you
want
them
to have
an
archaic
look
like
Piero
de
la
Francesca.
And I
think
it's wonderful
that
you're
exploring
what
happens
with
your
palette knife.
But
the
important
thing is
that
being
an
artist is the way
you live
and
think
your
life
and
feel.'
What
bet-
ter
mentor
can
you
hope
for? And he was really
my
mentor."
"Sometimes
the
word
mentor
gets
so
mis-
used,"
dePaola
continued,
"especially in educa-
tion.
All
the
mentors
want
is little
carbon
copies
of
themselves. I see this all the time. Excuse me,
but
in
this whole language movement, there
are
all these mini
mentors
and
the
mini mini men-
. -
..
Reproduced with permission of the pUblisher.
G.
P.
PUlnam's Sons
tors. I think
what
a real
mentor
does is to say to
a
young
person,
'You like
my
work
so
you give
me
a certain respect. You're in
awe
of
me,
but
I
love
your
work.'
And a real
mentor
does
that,
helps the
person
come
up
with his
own
ideas. I
loved
Shahn's
work.
That
was
wha
t
was
so
important
to me. I
was
such
an
avid fan
of
his
that
I used to try to
copy
his stuff.
But
then
I
realized
I
didn't
have
to.
I
mean,"
Tomie
laughed,
"why
should
I
copy
his
when
he likes
mine?
That's
exciting mentoring."
"When I
went
to
Pratt
I did take
illustration
but
we
also
had
a
very
heavy
fine
art
focus.
53
~
Talking
with
Tomie
PATRICIA
AUSTIN
, , Ideally,
you
give a child a book; let the child read
the book
and
then
if
they
want
to talk
about
the book,
you
talk about the book. You don't ask them questions,
because the
minute
you
say, 'Read this
book
and
I'm
going
to
ask you questions, '
Oddly
enough,
when
I
do
my
fine
art-and
I
have a galJery
again-I
find I work best
when
I
work in sequential stuff.
If
I
start
painting
pears,
then
I'll
do
forty
paintings
of
pears
until
I've
exhausted my obsession with them. With illus-
tration, it's a whole different process. I
refrain
from
thinking
of
the
images
because
I like the
discipline
of
the story. I feel like I
can
be
three
separate
people,
maybe
even four. I
can
be
a
writer,
which
is very
different
from
being
an
illustrator, which
is
very different from
being
a
fine
artist.
The fine
artist
is the freest
because
I'm only being limited by
what
I
impose
on
my
own
work.
Sometimes
the fine
art
will
trigger
either
a
technique
or
a focus
on
something
that
ends
up
as a children's book.
The
painterly tech-
niques
that
I
used
in
Bonjour
Mr. Satie
and
in
Rabbit
and
Coyote
and
to a lesser extent
in
Alice
Nizzy
NazzY
all
came
out
of.what
I
was
doing
with
my
fine art.
Rabbit
and
Coyote especially."
Tomie
interrupted
his
train
of
thought.
"That
book. It's so funny. You read
your
reviews
and
the
critics
say, 'his
rounded
warm
usual style'.
Or
they
say
'We're
so
tired of this
art
work. Why
doesn't he grow?'
Then
you take a little
leap
like
I did in
Rabbit
Q11d
Coyote
and
the
critics
say,
'What
is
he
up
to?
This
doesn't
look
anything
like
his
work.' You
can't
win. You
can't
win."
As
an
artist, dePaola feels
that
he
has
two
or
three basic styles.
"I
have the style I call
my
col-
oring-book
style. I
know
this is going to
make
[YOU ruin
it}.
, ,
some
children's
literature
specialists
go
cringing
in the grave.
But
that's
the
way I
do
it. I do a
line
drawing
and
then
I
color
it in.
Then
I have
my
more
opaque
style
which
is
like
Country
Angel
Christmas.
I
do
opaque
paintings-get
more
painterly. I
use
transparent
media
for my
coloring-book style. It's all acrylic,
but
I
use
this
stuff
called
Rotring
artist
colors
which
are
trans-
parent
and
there
are
about
nine
of
them
and
they're
intermixable.
So
I
can
get
lots
of
mix-
tures.
What
I like
about
them
is
that
they're
not
watercolors. You
put
down
a
watercolor,
like a
green, and you
put
a blue glaze
over
it
and
it'll
pick
up
the
green,
but
with acrylic,
they
become
waterproof
when
they
dry.
You
pu
t
down
a
green and
then
you
can
literally
put
down
a blue
glaze
over
it.
Then
I also
use
opaque
acrylics,
like Liquitex
or
Golden. It's
more
like
what
we
think
of
as
painting.
Layered.
That's
an
easier
technique
because
if
you
make
a
mistake,
you
can
work
into
it.
Whereas
with
my
coloring-
book
style, I have to
rip
it
up
and
start
again."
In
any event, dePaola states, "I'm
not
interested
in
making
things look like they
actually
look.
If
I
were, I'd get a
camera."
In his fine art,
dePaola
is
fascinated
by tiny
paintings.
A
recent
body
of
work
included
dozens
of
Indian
paintings
1
1/2
inches
square.
He's
also
started
doing
shadowboxes.
He
wouldn't
use
that
kind
of
medium
for
a
picture
book, however,
because
he
feels
strongly
that
so
54
--c::fO-
Teaching
and
Learning Literature
MAy!JUNE
1998
much
is lost
when
a three-dimensional
medium
is
photographed.
"The
whole
thing
with
the
shadowbox
is
that
when
you look
at
it this way
or
move
your
head
an
inch,
it
looks different.
If
you
photograph
it, you're going to make it static.
Not every
medium
is
appropriate
for illustration.
There
are
interesting
clay
sculpture
or
cloth
sculpture
kind of books,
but
I personally think
they lose in translation. You lose all the tactile
stuff,
being
able
to
touch
the fabric.
So
1 don't
know
of
any
book that's ever been
done
success-
fully
photographing
sculpture
because
of
just
that."
1
asked
who
the artists are in picture books
right
now
that
he
admires
and
asked if
certain
iJlustrators have affected his work.
"I
can
hon-
estly
say
[other
illustrators] don't affect
what
I
do
anymore. I think
when
I first
started
out
I was
affected. I don't
know
if it was in
an
early book,
but
sure
I
wanted
to
crosshatch
like
Maurice
[Sendakl
Everybody did. I wanted to design as
well
as
the
Provensons.
These
books
attracted
me. 1 love
Trina's
work,
Trina
Shart
Hyman.
Charles
Mikolaycak's
books
are
beautifully
designed
and
beautifully
rendered.
Carolyn
Croll.
She
has
a
new
book
out
on
Redoute.
Carolyn is often accused in reviews
of
being ter-
ribly
influenced
by
my
work,
and
I
don't
think
she
is. I
just
think
she
comes
from
the
same
place. We
speak
the
same
visual
language.
I
think
Peggy
Rathmann,
who won
the
1996
CaJdecott
has
a wonderful
career
in front
of
her.
Some
people say, 'Oh
but
Tomie, it's a cartoon.'
And I said, 'Yeah, like Steig.'
What
kind
of
judg-
ment
is
that?
1 love
Julie
Vivas'
work.
1
got
introduced
to
her
in Australia. Really fell
in
love
with
her
work. 1
think
it's very interesting
and
very accessible to children. I find it moving
and
touching.
Gee,
there
are
so
many
peopJe
ou
t
there
whose
work
I admire."
Books-taking
on
a
life
of
their
own
A
continual
theme
that
I
return
to
when
I
chat
with
authors
is
how
children
receive
their
books
and
how
they
hope
that
teachers
will
share
their
books. dePaola
hopes
that
children
will
react
to
his illustrations
the
way he,
himself
reacts
when
he walks
into
a
museum.
"I
want
to
have a
picture
grab me,
grab
me
by
the
throat,
and really move me. The
second
step is analyz-
ing.
What
I
would
do
if I
were
a
teacher
is
to
have tons
of
books
in
my
room
and
let the chil-
dren
be
exposed
to
all
different
kinds
of
art.
Teachers
are
always telling
me
that
kids recog-
nize
my
art. Well, that's
because
I
have
a very
distinctive
but
very
accessible
style
for
young
children.
But
there's a perfect
way
that
you
can
get
5th
and
6th graders
into
the
world of
art
by
getting a
lot
of
children's
books
and
saying
this
one
is
done
in
collage,
now
how's
that
done?
You know, Eric Carle
paints
the
paper
and
cuts
it
out
in shapes. Go
through
a variety
of
styles
that
are
available in books. 1
think
children
get
stuck--even
grownups
get
stuck
in a
particular
kind
of
book." dePaola feels it's
not
necessary
for
children
in
the
younger
grades
to
know
or
notice the elements
of
art. "It's
more
important
that
the
art
in
the
book
is accessible to
them."
"One
of
the things
about
the
picture
book
is
that
we
put
so
much
in the
art
that
isn't in
the
text."
Sometimes
the
art
enhances
the
story
or
in
some
cases, the
art
creates
a sub-story.
One
day,
when
dePaola
used
to
visit
classrooms,
a
teacher
was
reading
Charlie Needs a Cloak
and
the
kindergartners
were
all giggling
while
she
was
reading. "She finally
stopped
and
said, 'You
children
are
being very rude. I
want
you
to
stop
this
laughing
right this
minute.'
And
this
one
lit-
tle boy spoke
up
and
said, 'We're
laughing
at
the
mouse.'
The
teacher's
response
was,
'What
mouse?'"
dePaola
reported
another
occasion
when
children
see
elements in
art
that
adults
don't
see.
"I
was
at
Jane
Yolen's
house
and
we
were
look-
ing
at
the proofs of Helga's
Dowry.
She
was
look-
ing
at
them
and
she
said,
'Tomie
you
don't
do
that. You
don't
suddenly
introduce
a
character
that
hasn't
been
in
the
book. You
can't
introduce
55
--c:jO-
I
Talking
with
Tomie PATRJCIA
AUSTIN
a
character
in the end.' Jane's
daughter
spoke
up
and
said, 'Mommy, [the
character's]
been there
all
along.'
But
you see,
Jane
was
reading
the
words
and
not
looking
at
the
pictures.
I defy
grownups
who read to their own children to say
that
at
least once in
their
experience they were
getting
ready
to
tum
the page
and
the kid says,
'No, no, I'm
not
finished yet.' The
parent
says,
'What
do
you
mean
you're
not
finished
yet?'
They're
not
finished
looking
at
the
pictures.
That gets educated
out
of kids. By third grade,
they
don't
know
how
to look
at
pictures
any-
more."
While we
seemed
to have hit
on
a topic
of
how
teachers
both
educate
and
miseducate,
I
asked
Tomie
what
led
him
to
endorse
On the
Wing
of
a Whitebird, A Tomie dePaola Resource
Book,
a
book
literaJly
advertised
as
"the
first
resource guide
that
has
been approved by Tomie
dePaola himself."
"On the Wing
of
a Whitebird is compiled by
Val
Homberg.
She's a big fan
of
mine. I visited
her
when
she
was teaching in Portland, Oregon,
and I was so impressed with
what
she
was doing
with
her
class. Val's book is
not
a manual. It's a
source
book.
She
gives
some
suggestions
for
projects. She gives no clip art
and
that
sort
of
stuff. Val agrees with
me
that the best teachers
in the world
wouldn't
even
bother
buying [this
book],
but
I approved of
it
because I
had
to
stop
this
other
shit-and
you
can
use
that
word
in
your
article because it is shit. There are people
who take
my
stuff, create
manuals,
and have
no
more
idea
of
what
my
books are
about
than
the
man
on
the moon. They are absolutely wrecking
them.
And
there's
nothing
we
can
do
to
stop
those.
They
are perfectly legal as long
as
they
don't use the
art."
Clearly, I had hit a raw nerve.
"How
would
you fee!?"
he
continued
ranting.
"There's a
manual
on Strega
Nona-they
should
know
better
than
trying to
draw
Strega
Nona.
She
looks
a certain
way
and
you
can't
just
put
any
old
witch
in
there
and
call it
Strega
Nona.
Besides,"
Tomie
added
adamantly,
"leave
her
alone. She's mine."
"What I worry about," he
continued,
"is the
teachers
that
aren't
naturally creative. Where
do
they go?
What
sources
do
they go to?
At
least
Val
[Hom
berg] is
approaching
the
work
in a way
that
I
would
want
my
work
to
be
handled.
don't
make
any
money
on
it,
bu
tit
has
my
approval."
"Ideally, you give a child a book; let the child
read the book
and
then
if
they
want
to talk
about
the book, you talk
about
the
book. You don't
ask
them
questions,
because
the
minute
you
say,
'Read this book
and
I'm going to ask you ques-
tions,' [you
ruin
it). That's
how
literature
nearly
got
ruined
for
me
in high school
or
junior
high
school actually. 'You1l
be
given four essay ques-
tions on
chapter
5 of Ivanhoe.'''
Tomie did go on to relate a couple activities
that
teachers
have
done
that
he
rather
appreci-
ates. "I'm
not
opposed
to teachers taking a good
book
like The Art
Lesson
and
getting
as
much
mileage
out
of
it as they possibly can. I've
heard
of
some
teachers
who
have
brought
sheets
into
the
classroom
and
let
the
kids
get a
flashlight
and
go
under
the
counter
and
draw
on
the
sheets. I think that's fun. I
think
that's
brilliant.
Don't
tell
me
that
aher
you
read
The Brothers
Karamazov
you didn't
want
to go off
and
ride in
a
troika
rushing
through
Moscow
drinking
vodka, 'cause I did. And I
don't
know why,
but
when
I
went
to
Europe
for the first
time
I
had
to
sit on
the
banks
of
the
Seine
with
a
baguette,
Camembert
cheese,
wine,
and
a
pear.
Now
somewhere
I read that.
Somewhere
somebody
pictured
that
and
in
my
romantic
period,
I want-
ed to
do
it."
On
another
occasion, a class activity includ-
ed Tornie. "When I
was
going to be 60, one class
made
this
birthday
chain.
Now,
I
know
they
didn't
invent it.
These
have
been
done
before.
But
it
was
365 links
and
they
sent
it to
me
for my
59th birthday. And every day, I had
to
rip off a
link until I got to
60."
"Did you
do
it?" I
interrupted,
incredulous.
"Of
course
I did it. One way to
keep
track of
what
day
it was.
Winters
get real
long
in
New
56
----c:/O-
Teaching
and
Learning Literature MAy/JuNE 1998
Hampshire.
One
gray
day
goes
into
another."
dePaola
mentioned
the
more
than
100,000
letters
a
year
that
he
gets
from fans. I
think
my
mouth
fell
open
and
I asked
him,
"Would
you
like
this
to
stoP?"
One
thing
he
would
like
to
stop
is
the
teachers
who
write
letters
asking
if
he
has
any
old
art
work
lying
around
that
they
could sell
at
their
bake
sales to
raise
money.
He
got
diverted
from
the
question
itself
and
talked
about
the
letters
he
receives.
"That
many
letters,"
he
said,
"you'd
think
you
couldn't
read
them
all;
but
I
have
help
and
it's
easy
to
do.
The
letters
fall
into
three
major
categories-the
form
letter
that
the
teacher
has
written
on
the
board
and
[the
kids] all
copied
it.
Or
they've
copied
it
and
they've
filled
in
the
blanks.
I
love it
when
the
kids
draw
the
lines
under
the
blanks," he said
sarcastically,
readily
recogniz-
ing
that
the
children
had
no
clue
of
the
meaning
of
what
they
were
writing. "Then
there
are
the
letters
that
come
from
the
teachers
that
say
to
kids,
'Write
your
own
letter.'
You still
know
it's a class project.
Those
are
the
teachers
that
have every kid
send
the
letter
in a different
envelope
hoping
that
each
child will get
an
indi-
vidual response. Well,
when
it's
from
a class, I
don't. I
send
a class
response.
I have a book-
mark,
the
design
changes
every
two
years
and
that's
sent
to those
children.
That's
the only way
they
can
get
it, by
sending
a letter. That's
what
they
want
anyway. It's got
my
autograph
on
it.
Then
there
are
the
letters
that
are
really
genuine
letters.
Quite
a few
letters
from
grownups
fall
into
that
category
as
well.
The
teachers
may
relate
a
story-this
book
did
this for
my
family,
or
this
book
saved
my
life.
There
are
children
that
write
you
these
strange
things. I
got
a
letter
from
a little girl
who
said
that
she
wants
to
date
this
little
boy
and
I
said
to
my
sister
Maureen,
'What
do
we say?
This
is
dangerous
stuff
to
get
into.' And this is like from a seven
year
old. 'I
really love this little boy.'
the
child
wrote.
'I
want
him
to
IGss
me
and
I
want
him
to
put
his
arms
around
me.'
You
know,
it's
like
Dear
Abby,
'What
should
I do?'
Tomie
continued
quoting
the
child's
letter,
'Did
you
and
Jeannie
kiss
and
57
-----0/>--
Talking
with
Tomie
PATR1C1A
AUST1N
hug?'
Fortunately
my
sister
said, 'I
think
I
can
answer
this for you.'
She's
a
grandmother
now.
Maureen's
letter
was
very
thoughtful.
'When
you're
young,'
she
wrote,
'you
should
have
as
many
friends
as possible.
Maybe
hugging
and
kissing isn't always the best thing.'"
As
we
wrapped
up
our
delightful
chat,
Tomie
made
"a plea to
classroom
teachers
to try to be
creative
and
inventive. Kids
are
curious
little
beings; they
want
to learn
stuff
but
they
can
be
bored
and
turned
off
so easily. They're so frag-
ile."
This
Tomie
readily
sees
from
the
letters
children write
and
we see in dePaola's
tender
sto-
ries
of
his own childhood.
"If
teachers
feel they
want
to
expand
a book,"
Tomie
said,
''I'm
into
that
now
too.
The Art Lesson
is
being
made
into
a
CD
Rom
and
it's going to be fabulous." While the
book
of The
Art
Lesson
itself
shows
a
picture
of
a
juggling
clown,
which
of
course
dePaola
put
in for
some
young
readers
to
notice
and
connect
to
one
of
dePaola's
other
books,
Clown
of
God,
the
CD
Rom
has
the little kid saying, 'I think I'd like to
write a
story
about
a
juggler
some
day
when
I
grow
up.'
In
a
fitting
closing
from
an
author
whose
autograph
more often
than
not
includes a heart,
from an artist who painted 2,347 hearts in
Helga's
Dowry (a class
counted
them
and
wrote
to tell
him!),
Tomie
extends this invitation, ''I'd like to
encourage teachers to
foDow
their own hearts."
BOOKS
CITED
ILLUSTRATED
BY
TOMIE
DEPAOLA
Rabbit
and
Coyote, a Mexican Folktale
adapted
by
John
Ralph
(1971) Macmillan.
Alice
Nizzy
Nazzy, the Witch
of
Santa
Fe
by
Tony
Johnston
(1995)
Putnam.
BOOKS
CITED
WRITTEN
AND
ILLUSTRATED
BY
TOMIE
DEPAOLA
Nana Upstairs, Nana Downstairs (1973)
Putnam.
"Charlie Needs a Cloak" (1973)
Simon
&
Schuster.
Strega Nona (1975) Prentice Hall.
The
Quicksand
Book
(1977) Holiday.
Helga's Dowry (1977)
Harcourt.
The Clown
of
God (1978) Scholastic.
Pancakes for Breakfast (1978)
Harcourt.
Flicks (1979)
Harcourt.
,
Big
Anthony
a11d
the Magic
Ring
(1979)
Harcourt.
Oliver
Button
is a Sissy (1979)
Harcourt.
Now
One Foot,
Now
the Other (1981)
Putnam.
Sing, Pierrot, Sing, a
picture
book
in
mime
(1983)
Harcourt.
Baby's First
Christmas
(1988)
Putnam.
Tony's Bread (1989)
Putnam.
The Art Lesson (1989)
Putnam.
Bonjour,
Mr.
Satie (1991)
Putnam.
Jamie O'Rourke
and
the Big Potato,
an
Irish
Folktale (1992)
Putnam.
My
First Thanksgiving (1992)
Putnam.
Country Angel Christmas (1995)
Putnam.
The
Baby
Sister (1996)
Putnam.
Strega Nona, Her Story (1996)
Putnam.
Get Dressed Sal'lta (1996)
Putnam.
Days
of
the Blackbird (1997)
Putnam.
OTHER
WORKS
CITED
Commire,
A.
(1990).
Something
About
the
Author. Vol. 59
pp.
59 - 75. Gale
Research:
Detroit, MI.
Homburg,
V.
Z.
(1993). On the Wing
of
a
Whitebird: a
Tamie
dePaola Resource
Book.
PO
Box 3483
Portland,
Oregon 97208.
Croll,
C.
(1996). Redoute, the Man
Who
Painted
Flowers.
Putnam:
New York.
58
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